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Ismini Stroubou- Alexandros Papacharalambous

Ismini Stroubou and Alexandros Papacharalambous belong to that group of Greeks who, although they began to build careers abroad, decided to return to Greece and to join forces in the transportation sector creating a company with innovative products. Shortly after the company’s establishment, they shared their goals and expectations with "Bridges", explaining the difficulties they faced and the reasons for their decision to return and follow their dream in their home country. 

Young Businessmen

Founders of "Aethon" Consulting

They came back to Greece in order to create their own company

Could you briefly tell us about your main business activities?

A.P.: Aethon was created to produce innovative products connected with transportation engineering. So we "go into" transport systems, even automatic vehicles. We are interested in specialised IT solutions related to smart cities and sustainable mobility and afterwards the analysis of data related to mechanical engineering.


You returned from abroad to work in Greece, and what’s more create something of your own.  What made you return, persevere and stay in Greece?

I.S. I think we returned for different reasons. Personally, I had work experience in Spain and Holland and returned because I wanted to see what the work environment in Greece was like. I think that the quality of life in Greece, even if some people disagree or don’t understand it, is still better than in Europe. Another reason that persuaded me to return was family.

A.P.: I agree with the standard of life is better than in Europe. I’d add to the standard of life and family a third factor, ambition. I returned with the ambition not only to do something in Greece but also for it to be of a European and international nature.


What did your friends say when you told them you were returning to Greece?

A.P.: When you live in Holland, where you have a life, a network etc, and you tell them, "I’m returning to Greece to begin my own business", they are surprised. The comments may have been positive, they said I was doing the right thing returning, but nonetheless the basic reaction was surprise.

I.S.: All my friends were puzzled. They asked, "why are you doing that?" and I replied "because I want to". Likewise, when I first began the business with Alexandros and I went to public services, I told people who I met that I’d returned from abroad and wanted to see what the procedure was for beginning a business, they too asked, "why did you come back?" And I thought that instead of helping me and praising me for wanting to promote Greek entrepreneurship and using the knowledge I had gained from abroad, they put a damper on it.


Have you developed a network of partners which included Greeks abroad? If, yes, how does that help in the development and evolution of your company?

A.P.: When you return to your own country, it’s like you’re migrating back again. In such a situation, the network you have is not in Greece but abroad. Naturally, it is also related to your age. The network we had developed we used as best we could. The jobs Aethon is currently participating in are mainly European rather than Greek and that is because of our network.

I.S.: There are obviously many eminent Greek scientists living abroad connected through the network and when they hear we are preparing to do a project in Greece, they want to help. They aren’t doing it so much out of patriotism but in the sense that it is a chance to collaborate and promote good practices.


Do you think that the "Bridges" initiative is a step in that direction?

A.P.: Of course all forms of networking have relevance and even more important is the systematic nature of networking. In other words, we can all network just by attending a conference, a seminar etc.


Have you used European funds to further develop your company? 

I.S.: We’ve mainly used ‘Horizon’ programmes. Not that we haven’t tried to use Greek programmes. At the moment, we are running two European programmes.


If the potential of Greek human resources is used in a developmental direction, do you think it is possible to put a ‘brake’ on the wave of Greek scientists and professionals emigrating?

A.P.: Partly, yes, it will help. The thing that everyone wants is to have a good income, be able to provide for their family, have a home. However, many Greeks abroad, as we were, want something more. And this has to do with daily life as much as with long-term planning. In other words that daily contact with means of transport, public services, factors such as how easily you can do a job. This essential organisation is missing in Greece and that has become even more obvious now that there is the crisis. This deficiency is something that is also known to Greeks abroad. And as far as long-term planning and programmes available are concerned. We sometimes see research programmes under which it is hard for us to construct an innovative idea as we can with Horizons.


Is the economic crisis a chance to find a way out through alternative forms of entrepreneuship?

I.S.:  I don’t think it is the crisis that has turned young people to entrepreneurship. I believe that we create the opportunities ourselves. If someone wants to be successful, they must find the way to do it themselves.

A.P.: You create opportunities wherever you are. I’m not saying that it’s easier to create opportunities in Europe than in Greece, there are difficulties everywhere. Perhaps, the crisis has created an increased tendency to co-operate.  


Based on current data, how easy do you think it would be for Greece to have repatriated Greek scientists?

I.S.: For someone to return to Greece, the right conditions of which the first is economic. In other words, they return with some perks, having lived and worked abroad. Similarly, there needs to be organisation.  For example, a person is greatly influenced by their everyday routine, they want to get to work easily or want, for example, to go to a public service and be served correctly and on time.

A.P.: Despite all that, let me add that we have frequently had people send us CVs or phone us to say that they like what we are doing and want to work with us without there being a vacancy at the company for this. It is a strong enough incentive for a Greek abroad to return when they see an innovation or something that they like and it satisfies them as a concept and way of thinking.   

I.S.: And let’s be clear about how pleasing it is when they tell us they like what we are doing and want to work with us. I find time to explain some things about us to them and try to find a way to co-operate because I want to help and find people who live abroad but see that there is perhaps an opportunity to return, giving them the incentive and motivation. I wish this had been my experience when I was in Holland, that is for someone to have suggested a position for me in Greece.


In the crisis in Greece, most people see difficulties in entrepreneurship. What are the most important characteristics an entrepreneur should have to be successful during this period?

I.S.: Persistence, patience and ambition, dreams. They are not only true for now, but have always been true and I imagine will continue to be true.

A.P.: I’d add optimism to that. In our case, we are sometimes ‘crazy’ optimistic in our meetings because we know that this will be the driving force. We know that, while the situation is difficult, if we take a positive stance we can do far more. And a final point I’d say is suspiciousness and co-operativeness. Be suspicious of what you are told but at the same time be ready to co-operate.